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XML in a Nutshell 2nd Edition Elliotte Rusty Harold and W Scott Means
Published by O'Reilly and Associates
ISBN:0-596-00292-0
634 pages
£ 28.50
Published: 27th June 2002
reviewed by Lindsay Marshall
   in the December 2002 issue (pdf), (html)
bookcover  

Yet another Nutshell book. What is there left to say about them? We all know that they are, with rare exceptions, consistently good, that they are well produced, that they are a little pricey if you don't take advantage of your UKUUG discount or get your employer to pay. We also know that they often tend to be agglomerations of manual page material linked by some explanatory material and that if you get the one that relates to what you are actively working on then you refer to them constantly. You probably know that I don't like the new icons for pitfalls and tips.

So what about XML in Nutshell? Second edition. If you read my review of the first edition then I bemoaned the lack of coverage of XML Schema. This is fixed in this edition with a fair bit of material devoted to the subject and with much other material brought up-to-date with the latest developments. This does not make for an easier read however. The trouble with XML and books about it is that the basic technology itself is so simple that there seems to be a feeling that it must be surrounded by unimaginably complex layers of other stuff. It's standard-it is, just like C++: everything has to be tied down and the last bolt on the bed tightened to the correct torque, even if it means that you can't actually lie down on it for the lumps of metal. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against standardisation, just the kind of standardisation that sees complexity as a goal in itself. I'm actually quite happy to have gray (or perhaps grey) areas in my standards - so long as I know they are there I'll avoid them. Basic XML is fine, but add in the dozen or so different ways of specifying what your XML means and how to reference it and process it in to other forms then you have a rococo edifice rivalling the most ornate wedding cake. How many people need to do all this stuff? Most people, it seems to me, use XML as a nice way of shipping data between systems and not much more than that. (OK the SOAP guys like to push the boat out - or perhaps it's a rubber duck - but you know what I mean). Whoever sees the stuff anyway?

Anyhow the book covers all the nooks and some of the crannies and is not taken in by the hype.

And so to XML Schema. I sense a terrible miasma of fear round the word Schema whenever it is used in these books. The bottom line is that it is peculiar because it is singular and most people don't really know what the plural of the word is: ``Schemas'' just sounds wrong, and ``Schemata'' scares people away with its classicism, assuming, that is, that they have even heard of the word. That aside, if you work with XML, at some point you are going to have to get to grips with XML Schema in order to create the schemata that describe what you are doing. This book provides a fast track to getting to grips with what is what, though, as with most tracks that are fast, it is a little hair raising at times and left me feeling slightly faint at times (I am still not entirely what xs:gDay is useful for nor why ___31 will include Feb 28th in a non-leap year?). Loads of examples, so many in fact that you tend to open the book to XML rather than text. There are examples in different scripts too, though the typography for these is somewhat muddy. Lots of descriptions of the many different ways to achieve the same ends and their pros and cons, and of the bits where they got things wrong in the standard - the author does not try to hide any warts. A big chunk of the book is manual page and some of the material overlaps with that in the Nutshell book - unavoidable and forgivable I think. Serious Schema sculptors will have this book to hand, I know that I shall be using it a lot, assuming that it doesn't vanish from my office?

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